Your July Anti-Blockbuster Indie and Art Films

There are plenty of character studies, re-released classics, documentaries, and movie musicals near and far.
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Welcome to mid-summer, when big-budget blockbuster movies usually break out. For those with more discerning taste in films, check out my June preview column for interesting movies that might still be playing on local screens, including The Bikeriders and Thelma. Here are my July highlights.

“Janet Planet”

Janet Planet

[Watch the trailer. Now playing at the Mariemont Theatre and some multiplex cinemas.]

One of the best locally-mounted theatrical productions I’ve ever seen in Cincinnati occurred in 2019, when a small group of CCM students and alumni produced a staging of Annie Baker’s Pulitzer-winning play The Flick, which the playwright had set in an older movie theater where the staff had plenty of time to converse while trying to keep the place clean and functioning. In an absolutely brilliant move, the local production used the Esquire Theatre’s main auditorium as its set, and the necessarily small audience sat in chairs on stage while the actors had the run of the seating area.

If you’ve seen The Flick, you know the playwright had a deep love for the movies and the pre-multiplex theaters that showed them. And indeed she does. Baker has written and directed the new indie film Janet Planet, which is getting raves. Set in rural Massachusetts in 1991, it’s about the complex relationship between outgoing, hippie-ish mom Janet (Julianne Nicholson), who has a busy and challenging personal life when not working as an acupuncturist, and her imaginative and sometimes introverted 11-year-old daughter Lacy (Zoe Ziegler).

New York Times critic Alissa Wilkinson praised it: “The genius of Janet Planet, Baker’s debut as a feature writer-director, is how flawlessly it renders what it’s like to spend the summer being 11 at your home in the woods, when your mother is your whole world and you wish you could just have her to yourself. You can hear the buzzing bug zapper, feel the sunburn on your skin, scratch your knees on the freshly cut grass and sink into the hazy evening ennui.”

“Green Border”

Green Border

[Watch the trailer. Likely to open later in July at the Mariemont Theatre or Esquire Theatre.]

This new movie from Polish director Agnieszka Holland has reviewers calling it one of the very best of her long, productive career. Considering her 1990 Europa Europa is considered a classic and was nominated for two Oscars, that’s saying something.

The film’s narrative story (it’s not a documentary) concerns refugees to Europe caught in one of the ugliest, cruelest, and just plain inhumane crackdowns on would-be immigrants in recent times. In 2021, Russian ally Belarus accepted refugees with the promise it could get them into adjacent NATO-affiliated Poland with the possibility of a brighter, freer future. Belarus, however, hadn’t consulted with Poland—some say the whole scheme was a cynical plot to make NATO look bad when Poland didn’t know what to do. For the refugees trapped in the “green border” forest between the countries, it was a long nightmare.

“Some topics are so distressing that it’s easy to turn away and just not think about them,” says NPR’s John Powers. “One is the world’s seemingly endless refugee crisis. But when poor, often traumatized people cross into your country by the thousands or tens of thousands, averting your eyes isn’t enough. You have to do something. The complexity of doing anything lies at the heart of Green Border, a new movie that packs a real emotional wallop. It’s the crowning achievement of filmmaker Agnieszka Holland, the 75-year-old Polish emigrate who’s built a long, varied career telling political stories about everything from the Holocaust and Soviet tyranny to the drug war streets of Baltimore on The Wire.”

Resistance: They Fought Back

[Watch the trailer. Likely to open later in July at the Mariemont Theatre or Esquire Theatre.]

This powerful documentary serves as a corrective to a certain belief about the Holocaust murder of millions of European Jews by the Nazis during World War II. Online, co-director Paula Apsell explained the film’s purpose: “Our goal is nothing less than a corrective to the dominant narrative of the Holocaust, one in which Jewish victims quietly went to their fate ‘like sheep to the slaughter.’ To the contrary, there were more than 90 armed rebellions in ghettos and concentration camps, thousands of Jewish partisans fighting in the forests, as well as countless examples of non-violent resistance against the Nazis.”

“Flipside”

Flipside

[Watch the trailer. Likely to open later in July at the Mariemont Theatre or Esquire Theatre.]

This documentary should be of keen interest to anyone of a certain age who’s been collecting and keeping mementoes—especially vinyl records—that they (or should I say we) hope will someday reward them, financially or emotionally, for their hoarding. The film by Chris Wilcha takes a first-person essayist approach that recalls the milestone 1986 documentary Sherman’s March by Ross McElwee.

The Flipside title refers to a New Jersey record store that Wilcha once worked in as a teen. Revisiting it now, he finds it a ghost of its glory days, which spurs him to consider whether his life has been as successful as he had hoped. That sets off a search for answers and a review of his life.

“As overcrowded as it all sounds, Flipside never falls off the cliff into confusion or incoherence, thanks mainly to Wilcha’s superb grasp of his theme,” writes Washington Post critic Michael O’Sullivan in admiration. “The director’s wise and discursive narration, which works its way from regret about life’s disappointments to gradual acceptance of the compromises we all make, ties together the film’s subject matter with the skill and vision of a novelist, weaving together threads about creativity; doing what one loves vs. what one must; the impulse to hold on to the past, ever at war with the need to let go and move on; growing up and growing old; finding purpose; selling records and selling out; and discovering a kind of bliss in the cracks between.”

“Kinds of Kindness”

Kinds of Kindness

[Watch the trailer. Now playing at the Esquire Theatre and some multiplex cinemas.]

The sometimes-chilly auteur director Yorgos Lanthimos is back in theaters with the nearly three-hour Kinds of Kindness just a few months after the release of his Oscar-winning Poor Things. This film also stars Emma Stone—Best Actress Oscar winner for Poor Things—and her co-star from that movie, Willem Dafoe. Jessie Plemons is also featured.

The distributor, Searchlight Pictures, describes the film as a “triptych fable following a man without choice who tries to take control of his own life; a policeman who is alarmed that his wife who was missing-at-sea has returned and seems a different person; and a woman determined to find a specific someone with a special ability, who is destined to become a prodigious spiritual leader.”

Florida Project

[Watch the trailer. Screens at 7:30 p.m. July 30 at the Esquire Theatre.]

Speaking of Dafoe, one of our greatest living actors and certainly one with superb taste and daringness when it comes to choosing roles, he will have one of his best films, Florida Project, (2017), revived at the Esquire as a Cindependent Film Festival special presentation. This is an especially good time to revisit this film or see it a first time, as director/writer Sean Baker’s latest movie Anora, a romantic comedy about a Brooklyn sex worker, just won the top Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

Two other highlights among the Esquire/Mariemont’s numerous special screenings this month are a newly restored Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 classic of world cinema, on July 15 at the Mariemont and July 24 at the Esquire. This is one of the entertaining film scholar Joe Horrine’s popular Deep Dive presentations, so you might want to get your tickets early.

On July 9, Conveyor Belt Books presents Inherent Vice, Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s novel, featuring stand-out performances from Joaquin Phoenix as an offbeat detective and Katherine Waterston as his client and former girlfriend. While not a huge hit upon its 2014 release, I’ve found its lightness of tone a welcome alternative to 2012’s stern The Master and 2017’s Phantom Thread. It also now seems a precursor to Anderson’s excellent 2021 Licorice Pizza.

Cincinnati Anime Film Festival

[Screens July 11-August 8 at Hollywood Drive-in Theatre, College Hill.]

The “drive-in theater” in College Hill.

Before she launched College Hill’s successful Japanese-comics-devoted Manga Manga bookstore, C. Jacqueline Wood ran the beloved Mini Microcinema in Over-the-Rhine, certainly a historic highlight of Cincinnati’s recent alternative film screening history. Now she’s back to her roots by combining two loves—her store is sponsoring the Cincinnati Anime Film Festival at the Hollywood Drive-in Theatre at 1538 Cedar Avenue close to her store.

Here’s the schedule (Japanese films have English subtitles):

  • July 11:Yu-Gi-Oh! Pyramid of Light, a 2001 English language film.
  • July 18: A filmed version of the live adaptation (featuring Cast A) Hayao Miyazaki’s Oscar-winning 2001 animate film Spirited Away.
  • July 20: Same as July 18, but featuring Cast B.
  • July 25: The First Slam Dunk, a 2022 Japanese animated film about basketball, directed by Takehiko Inoue.
  • August 1: Metropolis, a 2001 animated adaptation by Rintaro of Osamu Tezuka’s 1949 manga of the same name.
  • August 8: Weathering With You (2019) from Makota Shinkai.

Festival presentations are in the parking lot behind the currently vacant (indoor) Hollywood Theatre; a screen has been installed along the wall, and the sound can be heard via 95.9 FM. Cars are charged $25; pedestrians bringing chairs and an FM radio can attend for $6. There are nearby places for walk-ins to park. The space opens at 7:30 p.m.; films start somewhere between 8:45 and 9:15 p.m., depending on when there’s enough darkness to project. Because space is limited, you might want to consider advance tickets. You can ask questions and get information concerning tickets, parking, films, and more by querying mangacincinnati@gmail.com.

“Okonokos”

Woodward Theater’s Monday Night Movies

[Screens at the Woodward Theater, Over-the-Rhine.]

The Woodward Theater has a busy schedule of Monday night art films/concert films set for July. Screenings start at 7:30 p.m.

  • July 8: Stop Making Sense is an encore presentation of Talking Heads’ 1984 concert film, directed by the brilliant Jonathan Demme and featuring David Byrne’s artful stage presence along with great songs.
  • July 22: Contemporary Color was filmed at a 2015 concert that rock polymath Byrne staged in Brooklyn’s Barclay Center to celebrate the art of the color guards, teams that do dazzling synchronize dance routines. He solicited 10 original compositions and found 10 color guard units to perform them.
  • July 23: Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets is an overlooked hybrid documentary/staged film using street-cast characters to play fictionalized versions of themselves. The story focuses on the closing down of a popular watering hole, according to The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw’s 2020 review. “If ever you had the idea there was something bohemian or glamorous or Bukowskian about drinking in a Las Vegas bar … then this movie will wise you right up. It’s a docu-realist fiction about a seedy place called The Roaring 20s, in Las Vegas, which is about to close for good.”
  • July 29 and August 5: Okonokos is a live concert film the popular Louisville rock band My Morning Jacket made during two fiery shows at San Francisco’s Fillmore in 2005. This is a brand new 4K restoration, and it contains powerful versions of such songs as “Gideon,” “One Big Holiday,” “Lowdown,” and “Mahgeetah.”

Speed Art Museum Cinema

[Screening this month at Speed Art Museum, Louisville.]

Allison Anders

The fact that both Louisville and Columbus have excellent, well-curated film programs in comfortable theaters affiliated with arts institutions make both ideal destinations for overnight or weekend “cinephile tourism” excursions. This month, the cinema at Louisville’s Speed Art Museum is presenting three older movies that have renewed timeliness. On July 11 at 6 p.m. it’s bringing the influential director Allison Anders—a native of Ashland, Kentucky—to town for a presentation of her important 1993 indie film Mi Vida Loca (My Crazy Life). The movie centers on two Hispanic girls in L.A.’s Echo Park neighborhood who join a gang and soon turn into adversaries. After the film, Anders will participate in a discussion with Tracy Heightchew, film columnist for LEO Weekly.

On July 12 at 6 p.m., the late Roger Corman will be remembered with a special screening of his 1966 biker film The Wild Angels, starring Peter Fonda and Nancy Sinatra. It led to numerous imitations and 1968’s timeless Easy Rider, which co-starred Fonda. The genre has recently been revived by The Bikeriders.

Meanwhile, from July 12 through January 12 the Speed Art Museum is presenting one of the internationally famed Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama’s immersive infinity mirrored rooms, a major event in this region. This one is called “Let’s Survive Forever,” an apt title considering Kusama is 95 and still going strong. As part of the support activities for the show, Speed’s cinema will show the 2018 documentary Kusama: Infinity one Sunday a month at 12:30 p.m. The screenings are free; tickets will be distributed at the museum a half hour before the screening. Dates are July 14, August 11, September 8, October 13, November 3, and December 8.

MUSICALS! Summer World Tour

[Watch the trailer. Screening July 6-August 15 at Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus.]

I defy any movie lover to watch the trailer for the Wexner Center for the Arts’ month-long MUSICALS! Summer World Tour series and not immediately book a long vacation in Columbus to catch this cornucopia of divine viewing. (I’m searching for an AirBnB along High Street right now.) The Wexner’s film program is bringing in 12 movies from such foreign countries as France (1964’s Umbrellas of Cherbourg on July 6), Egypt (1981’s Fangs and 1997’s Destiny), and Mexico (1960’s The Ship of Monsters).

Festival Pass tickets are $50 for the general public, $40 for members and adults over 55, and $30 for students. Single tickets are $10 for the general public, $8 Wexner Center members and adults over 55, and $5 students. A July 19 double feature of Fangs and Japan’s Wild Zero is free.

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